Peeking into People and Pets Together's grand opening this weekend in South Minneapolis, Dominic Plata wasn't quite sure what to make of the idea of a food shelf for pets.
He's a dog lover himself, the owner of a baby pit bull who heard about the state's first pet food shelf from friends at the park. "When you see somebody with a dog, you expect them to treat it with love, and if you can't feed it, why have a dog?" Plata wants to know. "Is it just for looks? You might as well give it to somebody who can care of it, right?"
It's a question that People and Pets founder Kim Carrier hears all the time. It takes somewhat of a leap to imagine being the type of person who would resort to food donations to feed a family pet, "but pets can live 10-20 years," she says. "And there's not a single person among us who can foresee what their economic situation would be in two decades. In fact, most of America is just one financial crisis away from poverty."
It could be a sudden illness or a job loss that wipes out a family's savings. Before People and Pets had its own storefront, volunteers would stock regular food shelves with kibbles. They found that for the same reasons hardworking people suddenly found themselves without food, they were also struggling to feed their pets.
One woman had been without a job for months after the recession hit. As Carrier stocked the shelves with cans of cat food one day, the woman grabbed her arm and burst into tears. She'd been sharing all her tuna with her cats. Now they could have cat food.
Board member Wendy Reid says many of the people who come to the food shelf end up giving back in volunteer hours when times get better. She remembers one man who came in for vaccines and dog food after he'd gotten into a car accident. He was a freelance artist who received disability through the state, but it was so minimal he could barely feed himself, much less his dog. People and Pets fronted him about $20 worth of puppy chow, which he later returned five-fold in donations.
"At the point when we saw him, he was like, 'My dog is my sole companion. He's there with me when I'm doing my rehab,'" Reid says. "We helped him when he thought he was going to lose his dog, and six months later he sends us a check for $100, which probably meant that week he was just going on rice and beans. People want to give back when we help them out."
Volunteers include veterinary students from the University of Minnesota and an army of drivers who pick up donations from across the Twin Cities to deliver to those in need. Now that they have a store at 3755 Bloomington Ave. S., serving Powderhorn and Phillips, Carrier says, they finally have a meeting place and enough storage to keep semis full of food.